By Lauren Levine, JWI Executive Associate & Library Project Coordinator
Put yourself in the shoes of a child victim of domestic violence. After weeks, months or maybe years of watching your parents fight, your mom getting hurt, and maybe even being hurt yourself, you are one day taken from your home and probably your friends and community, and brought to an emergency shelter. You may be in a new city or state, and suddenly all of your favorite toys, clothes and people are gone. Your surroundings are unfamiliar. The house you live in has cameras on the front and your mom is worried about staying hidden. Other families live here and you suddenly have to share your space with other kids.
Now imagine that in this unfamiliar home surrounded by unfamiliar people, you come across one colorful room. In the center is a bright blue rug with animals around the edges and the alphabet written in a circle. There’s a little rocking chair that’s the perfect size for you. On the shelf behind it, you see books. But one book stands out. It’s your favorite book. Your mom used to read it to you in your old home, which now seems so far away.
You pick up the book and flip through the familiar pictures. Your mom comes in and sees you with the book. She sits down in a bigger rocking chair right next to you. She smiles at you, just like she used to, takes the book from your hands and begins to read. You sit down on the colorful rug and listen. Suddenly you’re not so far from home…
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of opening the newest children’s library as part of JWI’s National Library Initiative in Taretum, Pennsylvania, right outside of Pittsburgh. The library is at the Alle-Kiski HOPE Center – an amazing organization with an emergency shelter and transitional housing for victims of domestic abuse. Through a generous grant from Verizon Wireless, we were able to stock the new children’s library in the Alle-Kiski emergency shelter with 500 books, adult and children’s rocking chairs, multiple bookshelves, a child-sized table with chairs, and a bright, colorful rug.
This library is our 41st in our effort to open 100 across the country. Like the last 40, this library will be a reminder of hope for children whose lives have become turbulent. The staff at the shelter was so thankful to have this space especially for the more than 80 children who live in this shelter each year.
As we looked through the bookshelves after the library dedication event, each person attending the opening saw a book or two that brought forward memories from his or her childhood. Hopefully, these books well help create the same positive memories for the children living in the shelter.